Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Screening Log

Color coded via Dan Sallitt's method (Current or upcoming releases not included). Click on the titles to writing when applicable.

1.  Chimes at Midnight (Welles, France/Spain, 1965).
2.  In the Mouth of Madness (Carpenter, USA, 1994)
3.  Red Line 7000 (Hawks, USA, 1965)
4.    Shanghai Express (Von Sternberg, USA, 1932)
5.   The Freshman (Newmeyer and Taylor, USA, 1925)

Also Notable (No order besides color categorization): Emperor of the North (Aldrich, USA, 1973), Dangerous Game (Ferrara, USA, 1993), The 'Burbs (Dante, USA, 1989), Nosferatu The Vampyre (Herzog, Germany, 1975), In Another Country (Hong, South Korea, 2012), The Big Sky (Hawks, USA, 1952), Batang West Side (Diaz, Philipines/USA, 2001)

Rewatches: Tokyo Story (Ozu, Japan, 1953), The Color Wheel (Perry, USA, 2011), Southland Tales (Kelly, USA, 2006), In a Lonely Place (Ray, USA, 1950)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wanderers Before God: Alexander Sokurov's Faust

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, Casper David Friedrich, Oil on Canvas, 1818
Somewhere between a Rabelaisian paean to Earthly pleasures, complete with the drunken waltz of the camera, and a serious investigation to the failure of human desire for knowledge, Alexander Sokurov’s Faust is quite unlike any other cinematic event I’ve encountered this year. The film’s loose adaptation of Goethe’s masterwork sees no difference between its highly aspirations and its low humor—an opening CGI shot that sets up an epic mythology ends with a blurry shot of a flaccid (and dead) penis of a cadaver being examined for the progress of human knowledge. That failure of knowledge is key for Herr Doktor, a man who has learned all he knows about the stars, only to be disappointed that he finds no pleasure in this life—that perhaps the science he defines his life brings him no pleasure (he has much to learn by the woman visiting his gynecologist father, her checkup an excuse for the orgasm the examination will produce). Even a monkey on a moon, a bizarre and lovely image, adds no interest to him. This man is destined to his meeting his Mephistopholies (Anton Adasinsky, the performance of the year), a drunken and ghastly creature who will take him through the maze of life’s lowly pleasures (a bath of virgins, a drunken pub, a mockery of a funeral), all in the hopes to make him reveal some desire worth trading his soul. Like Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Faust meanders without implicit meaning or classical rhythms, forcing the viewer to accept his venture of the physical into something metaphysical, the camera spinning around like a waltz (two steps forward, one step back) in an attempt to make Faust find something within the moral schema he still submits to. Sokurov's demented view of humanity is so decidedly strange (the Devil is not just evil; he's also a bad speller) that it’s easy to dismiss his portrayal of this “important” work as the sign of a filmmaker who can’t tell good from bad, but even his obsession with bowel humor is sublimated into the great philosophical search, all implemented through the garish colors of Bruno Donbonnel's boldly inventive visual palette (at once seductive and repulsive). The film’s most beautiful moments—a golden vision of his beauty, and the two’s romantic drift into a river—are also the most tragic.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gina Telaroli's Traveling Light

Like I noted with my piece on Dan Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act, I consider Gina Telaroli enough of an acquaintance that I can’t completely write about her film without proper disclosure. Gina is one of NYC’s most dedicated repertory film viewers, so we do end up seeing a number of the same films and chatting before and after. The two of us are also contributing on a project to be announced at a later date.

Traveling Light deserves to be seen on the big screen, so if you are in New York, I highly recommend attending one of the three screenings at Anthology Film Archives this weekend (and pair it with one of the great train films Gina has programmed alongside). For those outside of New York, the film will stream on Lumiere for a month starting on November 15th. It’s only an hour, and very much worth your time.

Gina Telaroli’s Traveling Light strikes me as a work essentially about loss, and one that operates unlike any other film set on a train—its visual language and rhythms are highly unique (certainly falling under the category of “experimental” but never didactically so).1 The film is almost like a collection of postcards, filled with moments of reflection on not only how we view the world, but also how we view each other. It’s also a film that stirs emotions hard to explain. The fact that Telaroli’s initial plan for the film went haywire (described her in my interview with her) and the final work is still something of rapturous transfixion, should speak no doubt to the conviction she has when wielding cinema.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Philosophy of Histoire(s) Du Cinema

About two hours into Histoire(s) Du Cinema, I finally had a small epiphany moment with Late Godard, a period that begins with this mammoth work and continues into what I’ve seen from the 90s and up to Socialisme. Late Godard isn’t popular with most folks who fondly remember his 60s films because he largely abandoned narrative. He’s not an avant-garde artist either, or at least in a way that where his work isn't a complete breakdown of form (See: Brakhage, Snow, Dorsky). Instead, it’s now clear to me that Godard is trying to write philosophy in the same way that Kant or Hegel or Hume write philosophy. But instead of the pen, his choice of means is cinema, where he can use the image and the juxtaposition of image to create his dialectics stronger than words could do—perhaps the closest thing to the hopes of an intellectual montage as theorized by Eisenstein. Some would call this thus an essay film—a term I must admit I still don’t have a strong hold on, so I will avoid it (Andrew Tracy provides some fantastic thoughts here on the essay film).

Thinking of Godard as philosophy gives us some easier access points into Late Godard and specifically Histoire(s) Du Cinema. Firstly, it makes me more forgiving in how inaccessible the film can sometimes be, whether by its references to events, films, and people we might not understand (Kant’s Third Critique makes numerous references to his contemporaries, and yet we can still understand his view of judgement without reading those works). Perhaps it also makes more palatable the fact that not everything—heck, at least a third of the film—remains untranslated from French. Plenty of philosophical texts I’ve read will quote Latin or Italian or what not and expect that the person reading such a work is familiar with these languages. Godard does that too—it’s frustrating to someone as na├»ve in other languages as me (I wrote down about 10 oft-repeated words from the film in my notebook to translate after), or that I have no idea who some of these people who appear in the frame with Godard are, but it has its justification.

The “Godard as philosophy” tenet also means reserving judgment of the work in ways that I think we might approach other cinema, whether narrative or avant-garde. During the beginning to part 4A, Godard goes on a long rant about the tyranny of governments, who justify murder but are no different than the anarchic man who murders. Godard has his reasons, as all political philosophers do, and I strongly disagree with his view of government. But I also feel the same way about reading some of the more tenuous views of Plato or Machiavelli. What I’m more interested in while watching Histoire(s) is that it’s central problem: did cinema ultimately fail the 20th century? Did we fail to properly answer the question of “what is cinema”? Although for some reason many had told me this work essentially came down to that essential famous quote from Godard about the failure to record the images of the Holocaust, I think there’s much more going on here that cinema’s failure to record. 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Link Round-Up: The End is Nigh

Besides some writing on Letterboxd and maybe a blog post, expect this to be the last work you'll see from me until late December—my thesis is due December 12th, and my PhD applications before that, so I'll be working on those day and night until then. You'll still get podcasts (I think), or at least they are in the pipeline, but for now...

Three more episodes of The Cinephiliacs went up in October: you had the final NYFF report with Tony Dayoub talking about big hitters like 12 Years a Slave, Blue is the Warmest Color, Her, The Immigrant, and more. Then there's an episode with Craig Simpson from the Indiana University archives talking about Welles, Pauline Kael, and Paris, Texas. Finally, there's a roundtable episode of the show on the occasion of what would have been Andrew Sarris's 85th Birthday. The roundtable includes past guests like Dan Sallitt, David Schwartz, and Godfrey Cheshire. So head on over and take a listen.

In terms of written work, I took another dive at Blue is the Warmest Color and reviewed it for In Review Online, and then my contribution to scary movies was a piece for The Film Stage on the release of two new Criterions: Lewis Allen's The Uninvited and Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte (the worst horror is marriage). 

On Letterboxd, my piece on The Counselor got some buzz, so much that Critcwire guru Sam Adams chose it along with a piece by Keith Uhlich on 12 Years a Slave to highlight. Thanks Sam! Otherwise: I also wrote about...A Girl In Every Port, The Big Sleep, Pulse, Club Sandwich, I No Longer Hear the Guitar, HaHaHa, The Chase, I Used to Be Darker, All is Lost, and La Chembre